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Consequence Kalispell Fire Station closures

| July 26, 2020 1:00 AM

Kalispell Fire Station 62, located behind Costco on 255 Old Reserve Drive was closed on July 21 and will remain closed until July 25 at 7 a.m. Fire Station 62 is closed due to ongoing staffing shortages. As a result, an inability to staff the multiple apparatus providing emergency services to the northern district of the City of Kalispell is evident. Expect prolonged response times to emergencies and delays in emergency care as we attempt to remedy this situation. Due to these circumstances, our membership feels it is necessary to reach out to the public.

Throughout 2019-2020 there have been multiple occurrences of Kalispell Fire Station 62 closing for both partial periods as well as full 24-hour shift durations as a result of staffing shortages. Since its opening in 2006, Station 62 has provided an ALL HAZARD response to the northern part of Kalispell and our mutual aid partner communities. This includes staffing Ladder 642, two Advanced Life Support ambulances, a Wild Land Fire Brush truck, and a water tender.

Unfortunately, it appears this trend is continuous, and the community will experience further station closures in the future. The current predicament of the Station 62 temporary closure, with no available staffing is unprecedented and dangerous for our community, particularly during what is the highest call volume time of year.

Although it is stated that we have “robust mutual aid,” we do not accept this as a solution to the staffing shortage for the Kalispell Fire Department. It is imperative to examine the delays in 911/call response as a result of relying on outside volunteer agencies to augment the 24-hour coverage of a fully staffed, professional Fire Department. Funded by city taxpayers, there is a justified expectation of a particular level of service and response.

Relying on outside agencies to provide a service on behalf of the City of Kalispell places an undue strain upon outside agencies, as well as leaving their districts short of response capabilities to their own emergency needs. These staffing shortages create a burden on mutual aid partners and foster an ever-dangerous work environment for already exhausted Kalispell Firefighters attempting to respond to ever increasing call volumes. KFD firefighters have collectively worked over 2,000 hours of overtime since Jan. 1 due to the staffing shortage.

In the spring of 2018, the City of Kalispell funded an “EMS Study.” This study cost taxpayers over $40,000, paid to an outside consulting firm. Their report recommended 11 firefighters per shift, which would bring total staffing to 33 firefighters. For reference, full staffing in 2010 was 30 firefighters with an annual call volume of less than 3,000 calls. Current staffing at KFD is 26 firefighters (nine, nine, and eight) with a projected call volume of over 4,000 calls this year. To date, there has been little to no action made in heeding the staffing recommendations found in this study. In the past, overtime was called when staffing dropped below 7 firefighters. In recent years overtime is only utilized when staffing drops below 6 firefighters.

Over the last 14 years, the City of Kalispell has and continues to experience exponential growth. Still, there has been no clear or dedicated effort to augment the Fire Department budget or response capabilities in order to meet the increasing call volume, district size and strain placed upon those responsible for responding to emergencies. While there has been a decade and a half of vacancy savings, increased tax base, and revenues — including impact fees — the Kalispell Fire Department has seen a reduction in staffing and manpower with a significant increase to call volume. Currently, there is a hiring process taking place to fill two of the three vacancies that the city of Kalispell’s organizational chart identifies. These positions have been vacant for some time and are not adding a position to the budget. This will only attempt to remedy the amount of station closures and lack of manpower. Without a significant increase to staffing, these issues will continue.

Residents of Kalispell should be advised that the consequence of continual station closures undoubtedly creates a disturbing trend in which services expected by our community are not met. Numerous other results of these staffing shortages can be anticipated as delays in response, increased morbidity and mortality, and a decreased short/long-term patient outcome following initial patient contact. The ultimate cost of this failure in planning or foresight is not to be measured in taxes, other monies, or increased firefighter injuries/burnout of personnel—it is gambling with the lives of our friends, families and neighbors. The immeasurable cost of our decreased response efficacy places the community at ever-increasing risk while erroneously leaving First Responders to blame.

To voice your concerns regarding this matter, please contact the City Council at citycouncil@kalispell.com

Don Thibert, President of International Association of Firefighters Local 547; Josiah Mooney, vice president; Adam Cliffton, secretary; Jake Felts, treasurer.